Abidemi Rufai, a former aide to Ogun State Governor Dapo Abiodum, on Tuesday, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft by using stolen identities to claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
This was during proceedings in the U.S. District Court in Tacoma as announced by U.S. Attorney Nick Brown via a report published by the Department of Justice.
Abidemi Rufai, 45, has been in custody since his arrest at New York’s JFK airport in May 2021.
At the time of his arrest, Rufai was the Special Assistant to the Governor of Ogun State.
According to the plea bargain, Rufai illegally stole the personal identifying information of more than 20,000 Americans in order to submit more than $2 million in claims for federally funded benefits under a number of relief programs between 2017 and 2018. More than $600,000 was paid out by the different authorities involved.
The Washington State Employment Security Department was the victim of the most fraud, with $350,763 in bogus pandemic unemployment claims sent to accounts controlled by Rufai.
Rufai also filed false jobless claims in at least 17 additional states during the pandemic.
Rufai also attempted to receive Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) connected to the COVID-19 outbreak from the Small Business Administration (SBA).
He submitted 19 fake EIDL applications between April 8, 2020, and June 26, 2020. SBA paid out $10,000 based on the applications.
Rufai attempted to get more than $1.7 million in IRS tax refunds by filing 675 fake claims between 2017 and 2020. On these claims, the IRS paid out $90,877.
COVID-19 was not the start of Rufai’s efforts to benefit himself through fake disaster claims. He filed 49 disaster assistance applications in September and October 2017 in response to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. He filed $24,500 in bogus claims and was awarded $6,500 on 13 of them.
Rufai has committed to compensate the duped agencies in full.
Wire fraud in the context of a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in jail.
Following any prison term issued on another offence, aggravated identity theft is punishable by two years in prison.
Prosecutors have agreed that no more than 71 months in prison should be recommended.
The recommendation is not binding on U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle, who will decide on the appropriate sentence on August 15, 2022, after taking into account the sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.